Poulter shows he's match for the best
After playing 108 holes in six fiercely contested matches, Ian Poulter could feel entitled to a substantial reward.
This was exactly what he gained last night, in the shape of a Volvo World Match Play title earned through sweat, tenacity and, at times, sheer bloody-mindedness. It was the misfortune of Luke Donald, thwarted again in the quest to become world No 1, to have been standing in his way.
All Poulter's battles here on the Costa del Sol had gone to the 18th or extra holes, until a final duel that he wrapped up 2&1 against an indifferent Donald. No wonder he is such a formidable Ryder Cup competitor.
Even in yesterday's semi-final struggle with unheralded Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts he was two down at one stage and yet still contrived a way to win. A rank outsider in facing Donald, he prevailed against the odds once more. "Pretty special," Poulter said of his maiden World Match Play title, which set his name alongside such greats as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and, of course, five-time champion Seve Ballesteros.
The inspiration, he disclosed, had been his son Luke, who turned seven yesterday back in Florida. "Happy birthday, Luke." Well, quite.
Poulter, who also won the Accenture World Match Play in Arizona last season, would be bringing home not only the title, but a cheque for £715,000: a healthy bonus as he prepares to move to a splendiferous lakeside house in Orlando.
Donald, deprived of the chance to usurp Lee Westwood in the rankings, did not disguise his dismay at an error-strewn final round. "It was disappointing," he admitted. "I gave Ian too many opportunities. That will leave a sour taste in my mouth. I just ran out of steam."
It was perhaps fitting that this expatriate enclave near Marbella should have been treated to an all-English final. Donald and Poulter were the ideal star attractions for a Home Counties crowd, although it was a scrappy quality of show that they produced. Both were addled after five rounds apiece on this sharply undulating course, fashioning just six birdies between them.
Donald, despite trouncing Martin Kaymer 5&3 in the morning's semi-final, was especially error-prone as his recent glut of golf caught up with him. With some irony, Kaymer, his leading rival to seize the No 1 spot from Westwood, had praised his metronomic brilliance: "He played like a machine. It was like a PlayStation, unbelievable."
For the closing act, though, Donald did not so much hold the door open for Poulter as invite him in for a fiesta. He has been suffering with a throat infection since last month's PGA Tour event in New Orleans and appeared to feel the after-effects here, losing accuracy in his approach play and, most surprisingly of all, his touch with the putter.
A wayward drive at the 334-yard fourth, where his ball finished on the rocks by the lake, did much to disrupt his rhythm. At the par-five fifth a short tee-shot -- even by his standards -- led him to push a fairway wood into a bunker and mangle his escape from an awkward position against the lip.
Another dropped shot ensued and Poulter claimed an advantage he never looked likely to relinquish.
Of course, it would not have been a Poulter performance without a brief burst of theatrics. Flailing an attempted lay-up into deep gorse on the right he opted, improbably, to try to hack the ball out. But with an unstable stance his right leg buckled and he ended up in an ungainly heap on the ground.
The collapse was not quite as comical as that of Richard Finch, who memorably tumbled into a lake at the 2008 Irish Open, but still embarrassing for one so style-conscious.
An official was dispatched to retrieve the platinum-diamond ball marker that fell out of his pocket in the fall, and Poulter marched on. A par at the ninth ensured he made it to the turn all square and from there he mustered a surge, stacking up three back-nine birdies to his opponent's zero.
Nowhere were Donald's wobbles on the green more manifest than at the 15th, as he watched a putt horseshoe out of the cup from three feet.
Two down with two to play, Donald surrendered the last vestiges of resistance at the 17th, leaving his shot into the par-three 17th on the fringe and setting the stage for Poulter to drain a seven-footer for victory.
In a reaction reminiscent of his best Ryder Cup flourishes, Poulter clenched the fists and let out a guttural "Yes!" in triumph. (© Daily Telegraph, London)